Two poems and a short story of the Bedouin culture in Qatar
By: Chetan Immanneni and Sashank Kothamasu
Storm in the Desert by Imru' Al-Quais
But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.
Its glory shines like the lamps of a monk when he has dipped their wicks thick in oil.
I sat down with my companions and watched the lightning and the coming storm.
So wide-spread was the rain that its right end seemed over Quatan,
Yet we could see its left end pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.
So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees,
The spray of it drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.
In the gardens of Taimaa not a date-tree was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.
The mountain, at the first downpour of the rain, looked like a
giant of our people draped in a striped cloak.
The peak of Mujaimir in the flood and rush of debris looked
like a whirling spindle.
The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, till it blossomed
As though a Yemeni merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks,
As though the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa awakened in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning draught of old, pure, spiced wine.
As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud,
like the onion's root-bulbs.
They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.
A Bedouin and the Old Man by Muhammad Abduh Mughawiri
When passing through a mountain pass, a Bedouin once came across an old man who was blind and who seemed to be afflicted with various ailments all over his body. It was clear that he was wasting away. He was even paralyzed and was constantly forced to remain in a seated position. The Bedouin could clearly hear him say, "All praise is for Allah, Who has kept me safe from ailments with which He has tested many among His creation; and He has indeed preferred me over many among those that He created."
"My brother!" exclaimed the bedouin. "What have you been saved from? By Allah, I think that you have been afflicted with every single kind of ailment!"
"Go away from me," said the old man, as he raised his head. "Do I not still have a tongue with which I can pronounce His Oneness, and with which I can remember Him every single moment? And do I not still have a heart with which I can know Him?"
These words of the old man were enough for the Bedouin to repent to Allah for his sins and ask Him for forgiveness
Enjoyment of Life by Abu Aqil Labīd ibn Rabī'ah
Did Nawár not know then, and was she not aware that I
am skilled to knot the bonds of friendship, and break them too?
I am quick to be gone from places when they're unpleasing
except, as happens, its destiny fetters my spirit there.
Ha, but you have no idea, my dear, how many nights
of agreeable warmth, delicious in sport and companionship,
I have passed chatting, how many a taverner's hoisted flag
I have visited, when the wine it proclaimed was precious dear,
and I've forked out a pretty penny for an old, brown wineskin
or a pitch-smeared jar, newly decanted and seal broken,
for the pleasure of a song on a wet morning, and a charming
with nimble fingers the strings of her melodious lute;
yes, I've raced the cock bright and early, to get me my spirit's
and to have my second wetting by the time the sleepers stirred.
And many's the morning of wind and cold I've kept at bay
when its reins lay in the fingers of the bitter north
and defended the knights, my bristling panoply burdening
a swift-stepper, its bridle at dawn flung about my shoulders.
I have climbed to a look-out post on the brow of a fearful ridge
the dust of whose summits hung closely about their standards
till, when the sun flung its hand into dusk's coverlet
and darkness shrouded the perilous marches of the frontiers,
I came down to the plain; my horse stood firm as the trunk
of a tall, stripped palm tree the gatherers shrink to ascend.
Then I pricked her on, to run like an ostrich and fleeter still
until, when she was warm and her bones were light and pliant,
her saddle slipped about, and her neck streamed with sweat
and the foam of her perspiration drenched her leather girth;
she tosses her head, and strains at the rein, and rushes on
as a desert dove flutters with the flight swiftly to water.
Reading the literature of the Bedouin culture in Qatar is truly a worthwhile experience. Unlike other forms of literature, Bedouin songs, poems, and short stories all contain strong morals to help build character and provide important life lessons. On a personal level, it made me rethink how difficult finding true rich happiness versus superficial outwardly happiness can be. For example, the poem that my partner and I analyzed described true happiness as an “oasis in the desert” enveloped by mirages and hot desert winds; words that represent opaqueness and troubles. Of course, making such a great poem requires great patience and attention from the author. Instead of simply touching on the topic or explicitly writing words, the author has to figure out their central theme and convert it into examples that are readily accessible. This unfortunately, is very limited, as the desert does not have very much variability in their wildlife and geographic events, both catastrophic and stimulating, which are also pretty rare. Regardless of their limitations, the Bedouin culture consistently goes deeper into their limited examples to bring out brilliant imagery in the form of metaphors, similes, and vivid descriptions. The brilliant imagery is brought out to increase the quality and the understanding of the literary works. In the poem Storm in the Desert by Imru’ Al-Quais, the author starts off by stating many similes and metaphors such as "like the flash of two moving hands", and "the thick gathering clouds (4). The imagery also gets deeper as the story progresses, "As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud, like the onion's root-bulbs. They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.” (Al-Quais 19-21). The true meaning in this is of course, different to everybody. Incredulously, that is what perhaps makes the Bedouin culture’s literature and poetry so special, it is so unique and specific, but the morals and underlying themes are positive and the same. As globalization is continuing to take place, we must reach into ourselves with this poetry, and take a brief journey into the literature of the Bedouin culture in Qatar and in ourselves.
Nature as Beauty
The Bedouin culture is one of the most intriguing cultures all around the world. From the weekly fasting rituals to the aesthetic handiwork and crafts, the literature of poets who practice Bedouin traditions is the most unique. Bedouin literature not only goes in depth as to what is simply there, the literature is emotive by adding a personal element in what the compose. A significant universal value in Bedouin compositions is understanding nature as beauty.
The three pieces of literature I read display this value in some sort of way but one piece exhibited it particularly well. “Storm in the Desert” by Imr-Al-Quais connects to the culture almost directly. “Storm in the Desert” is one of the Seven Odes in Arabic literature. The Seven Odes is collection of Arabic pieces thought to encompass Arabic literature as a whole according to author Mu’Allaqat.
Al-Quais writes that the storm was “So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees…” and relates this action to the Bedouin people who “...drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan…”. Domesticating wild goats was a common life style in the Middle East, especially typical in the customs of Bedouin culture. In a regular village, whenever something small bothered the group of goats they would always run down the hill where they were kept. Al-Quais scaled down the actions of the storm to the actions of the goats. Goats in a village represented that the people living there had a high regard for wildlife and that they appreciated the entirety of nature.
The author also wrote that “The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, till it blossomed…” linking to “As though a Yemeni merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks…”. Middle Eastern markets a frequently revered as some of the most beautiful markets in the world and Al-Quais describes the rain from the clouds onto the desert as “gifts” and a again scales down the actions of the storm to a merchant laying out his “gifts” in the market. The author directly explains the beauty of the storm to and everyday action of an ordinary person of Middle Eastern/ Bedouin culture.
“Storm in the Desert” shows the strength of the Bedouin culture and respect to nature as well as their appreciation of nature for being able to depict the daily occurrences of their culture as a whole. Bedouin literature will continue to take aspects from nature and craft culture around the idea of beauty.
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